Stress at work can reduce life expectancy by up to three years, finds study


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CIPDImpact varies depending on race, gender and education

Harmful workplace practices could be directly impacting employees’ life spans, according to a study from America, with people with low levels of education most likely to be affected by workplace stress.

According to a study from researchers at Harvard Business School and Stanford University, people who had spent less than 12 years in education were more likely to end up in jobs with unhealthy workplace practices, and were most affected by stress at work. Those with the highest educational levels were better able to cope with workplace stress, the study found, and had a longer life expectancy because of this.

The findings suggest that the amount of life lost to stress varies significantly for staff, depending on their race, educational level and gender. Those groups worst affected could lose nearly three years of life.

The American researchers said this is the first study to look at the impact workplaces have on life expectancy, specifically when broken down by race and education.

The analysis divided people into 18 different groups by race, education and sex, and estimated the effect that 10 different workplace factors would have on annual mortality and life expectancy.

Factors included unemployment and redundancy, the presence or absence of health insurance, shift work, long working hours, job insecurity, and conflict between work and family.

According to the study, low job control was the biggest influence on life expectancy for both men and women, with men most likely to be impacted by job insecurity and women largely impacted by shift work.

When broken down by race, ethnic minorities, including Black and Hispanic subjects, lost more years of life compared to their White counterparts. However, educated Hispanic women lost significantly more life to working conditions than educated Hispanic men.

Previous studies have suggested that short-lived bouts of stress can actually improve our performance, but prolonged, sustained harmful working environments are detrimental to employees’ health.

According to the latest CIPD Absence Management survey, two-fifths of employers in the UK have reported an increase in mental ill-health among workers. Heavy workloads, management style and difficult relationships with colleagues were identified as the main causes behind stress and anxiety in the workplace.

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, also pointed to job insecurity being one of the main factors of ill-health at work, adding that pressure in the labour market had increased significantly since the recession: “We’re talking about a contingent workforce where jobs are no longer for life, you’re there only while you’re producing,” he said.

The researchers behind the Harvard and Stanford study said employers needed to take into account employees’ individual circumstances when designing workplace health programmes, and the impact that the increase of long-hours, shift work and job insecurity is having on both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers.

Grace Lewis,  People Management 30 October 2015

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